Software Review: NetObjects Fusion 8
Software Review: NetObjects Fusion 8By Lee Underwood
On April 28, 2004, Website Pros announced the release of NetObjects Fusion version 8, the first major upgrade since June, 2002. This upgrade adds some major improvements to the package, such as advanced publishing options, a component manager, a table properties interface, and data importing ability.
NetObjects Fusion is a comprehensive application used for Website development. It features a WYSIWYG interface while still allowing for those who want to get to the "guts" of the code. This application is targeted to individuals and small businesses. Using this package, it is quite easy to build a Website, starting from scratch, and publish it to a server with a limited amount of expertise.
The program opens in the Online view. This is where most projects begin (It is possible to change this within the program's options). Here, existing sites can be opened or new ones created. New sites are created in one of three ways: using the Site Wizard, the supplied templates, or designing one from scratch. This Online view also includes how-to movies, access to online support, and additional products to enhance the Website. The package comes with a 676 page "User's Guide" and a 219 page "Getting Started" guide, both in PDF format, accessible from this same area.
Using the Site Wizard, you can create a site in three easy steps. In the first step, the type of site is chosen, i.e. "beauty and fashion", "books and publishing", "sports and recreation", "non-profit". There are a total of 16 categories in all. In the second step, the page type is chosen ("about", "contact us", "testimonials", etc.), along with the layout of each of the pages. In the final step (an optional one), the contact information about the site is entered. NetObjects Fusion then automatically inserts the information into the proper pages and creates the Web pages for the site. After that, it's just a matter of changing some information on the pages, and, presto, instant Website!
NetObjects Fusion makes it quite easy for someone with a little experience to create a Website with very little time invested. The Site Wizard is especially good for those who want to create a Web presence and who only need to list some basic information regarding their products or services. Remember, though, the site will be "stock", just like all the others of those who bought the program. However, there are additional SiteStyles available online for free and a "SiteStyles CD", with an additional 250 styles, is available for online purchase for $9.95.
For those who are more experienced - or more daring - new Websites can be created from scratch. Using the WYSIWYG editor simplifies the process. The user will have to do the design and layout but there are templates and style packages to make it easier.
While the User's Guide is very comprehensive, for those of us who don't like to read manuals it's also possible to poke around the program and manage quite well. The menus are laid out in a clear and orderly manner; tips and explanations help discover what each one does (if too much damage has been done, there's always the "Undo" button).
Additional commands are usually available from a right-click menu. This is where the user can add those little touches that tighten-up the site and make it distinctive.
After the initial site is created, all of the extras can now be added. Aside from the easy set-up features, NetObjects Fusion offers some great advanced features that provide much of the real innovation in the software. Some of these are new and some have been tweaked to optimum power. The only way to really get a grasp of the magnitude of this software is to get in the driver's seat and go, full speed ahead!
The new Table Properties interface in NetObjects Fusion helps to simplify the task of creating tables. Just click on the Table Properties tool on the Standard Menu at the top and click on the Web page where you want the box. A properties box will appear. Here, you can specify the number of columns and rows, the cell padding and spacing, and the size of the table. The width and height of the table can also be set to auto. Dragging the edges of the table to the desired shape will also set the size. Selecting a cell and then right-clicking provides access to the cell properties. Here, all the details pertaining to the font (type, size, attribute, alignment, link) and the cell itself (alignment and background) can be set. Then, just enter the data in the table and it's done. It's almost foolproof!
Many Web sites today are using media presentations to enhance their presence on the Web. Media formats such as Flash, Shockwave, QuickTime, RealVideo/Audio, and others can be added to the Web pages using NetObjects Fusion. This process is fairly simple and easy to do. It won't create meta files for Real media but it can provide a direct link to many different types of media for use on your site.
One of the headaches for many Web designers is trying to set-up a shopping cart for a Website. Well, for them, NetObjects Fusion should make life a little easier.
Setting-up an online store takes only a few minutes. All that is needed then is to enter the inventory, which is simplified by using the E-Commerce Catalog Properties Editor. Here, the details about the products are entered, including the sale and retail prices, weight, description, product image (including thumbnails) and related products to help increase sales. The download time of all the product images on each page is also displayed in an effort to limit customers having to wait for a large amount of graphics to load. Within the Catalog Properties Editor the layout of each page of the catalog is also set up. There is a list page for grouping similar products and a detail page for listing each product separately. Using the Editor is quite simple. Each store profile can be saved for usage at a later date. If there's an existing product list in either .TXT, .CSV, or .XML format, it can be imported directly into the E-Commerce Catalog Properties Editor.
If real-time, online order processing is needed, an account will have to be established with an online service. The software lists ten different merchant accounts and will provide a direct link online to establish the account. In addition, one can be selected from the Web host where the site will be located.
Databases can be integrated into a Website "without the need for hand coding," according to the company's press release. I was unable to adequately test this portion of the software but the press release states "no in-depth knowledge of database coding is required. Users can add and edit object properties, such as how database information is displayed on a page, directly in the page view." Databases can be modified online using Microsoft Access, MySQL, or other ADODB or ODBC-compliant databases. The information is updated in real time so there is no need to re-publish the database. It's probably best to have some knowledge of relational databases to set them up (although the software provides wizards to do much of this without any prior experience).
If a Website is being created for a photographer this feature will make life easier for the designer. Clicking on the Photo Gallery tool in the Advanced toolbar begins the process. Just name the page, select the photos, add titles and captions and it's done! Thumbnails are created from the pictures, the pictures are positioned on the page, and all the links and navigation are set up automatically. The pictures can even be displayed in a popup window without doing any special coding. Templates are included to display the pictures. Don't like the layout? Right-click over the photos and change any of the display options. The download time of each photo is also given.
Images can be manipulated right within the program. There is no need for other graphic software. Features include red eye removal, resizing, cropping, adding borders, shading and titles. The files can also be optimized and saved in .JPG, .GIF and .PNG formats.
Publishing the Site
Of course, the whole purpose of going through the design and creation process is to get the Website up on the World Wide Web. NetObjects Fusion can help with that too. Clicking on the Publish Site icon on the Standard Menu brings up the dialog box to begin the publishing sequence. The site can either be published locally (on the hard drive) or to any FTP, SFTP, or WebDAV server. Just fill in the information (server type, address, directory, user name and password), click, and presto ... it's on the Web! There are a few other steps but you get the picture.
NetObjects Fusion version 8 ($195.95/upgrade: $104.95) is a very comprehensive, integrated, sophisticated yet simple, Website design package. From the individual wanting to post photos for other family members to view to the small business wanting a bold presence on the Web, NetObjects Fusion version 8 offers a complete solution to the design and creation process. Without much experience, it's possible to design a Website and have it up and running quickly. This latest version of NetObjects Fusion should provide the necessary tools needed by designers and developers for some time to come.
Created: May 2, 2003
Revised: May 19, 2004